Ramones, as rock should always be

Ramones, as rock should always be

April 23, 1976 will go down in the annals of rock music history as the date it was released “Ramones”the debut album by the American punk rock band Ramones. The photographer Roberta Bayley immortalized the band members in the cover image leaning against a wall, not far from the entrance to the legendary CBGB, the scene of many of their exploits. The four 'brothers' Ramone – Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee and Tommy – they wear battered jeans, equally worn tennis shoes and black leather jackets. What follows is our review of that dazzling album written by Franco Zanetti.

In 1976 I managed a record shop in Brescia.

It was a nice large shop, on two floors, with a space on the ground floor for classical music and a large second floor for pop music. I therefore had (free) access to all the music I wanted. The problem was that some of the music I wanted wasn't available in the shop. Because I could order all the records that I considered useful to order, but the Italian record companies, from which the shop was supplied, did not print or distribute many of the things that interested me. So, paradoxically, even though I ran a record shop, I ordered records by mail order. I ordered them for personal use: I paid for them, and I took them home. But I had them sent to the store, for convenience. My dealer was Carù, a legendary record shop in Gallarate. It was in Carù that I ordered the album of a group whose photo I had seen in the “Melody Maker” that I bought every week at the station newsstand. Those four, in leather jackets – we still didn't call them “nails” -, tattered jeans and sneakers, had intrigued me above all because I had read that they had chosen their name by dusting off an old pseudonym of Paul McCartney (Paul Ramon): and the Beatles , even though at that time I was traveling the musical streets of glam (David Bowie Lou Reed Mott the Hoople Roxy Music Cockney Rebel.) they still remained my first love. In short, I ordered the Ramones album from Carù, and the day it was delivered to me I put it on one of the two turntables in the shop, without even suspecting what music would come out of it.

A rock tour of bass, guitar and drums began, over which an awkward voice began to chant “Hey! I have! Let's go!”.

And those first 33 seconds were enough to nail me down. That stuff was dynamite. I had already listened to and appreciated the first two New York Dolls albums – a cross between glam and rock, very loud and aggressive – and therefore I was not alien to liking the genre: but these Ramones, damn it! they were very strong. The entire album lasted less than 29 minutes: 14 songs, the longest was two minutes and 40 seconds (“I don't wanna go down to the basement”), the shortest stopped at one minute and 32 seconds ( “Judy is a punk”: dedicated to two fans of the band, it contained the phrase “maybe they will die” which proved prophetic when Judy and Jackie were victims of a plane crash). That afternoon, in the shop, I played the record continuously (the sales assistant downstairs, the classical music one, was dismayed: she didn't know how to make me stop). And several of “my” customers came to ask me what we were listening to, and some of them wanted to buy the record: but it was mine, that record, and the Italian RCA still didn't know who those four New Yorkers were, so I couldn't get it for them.

In the evening, on the radio, I couldn't wait to amaze my partner and co-host of “Musica obliqua”. I didn't tell him anything in advance, and without even putting on the theme song I placed the needle on the first groove of the Ramones album. I didn't expect anything less from Silvio: thirty seconds into “Blitzkrieg bop” he was jumping up and down on his chair with his headphones at maximum volume, after a minute we had already decided that “Blitzkrieg bop” would become, from that precise moment, our acronym has been fixed. A few weeks later the first singles of English punk arrived, the Sex Pistols and the Damned and the Vibrators and company spitting: but the Ramones remained forever in our hearts, in our ears and in our theme song.

All this long autobiographical rant serves to make you understand that the review you are reading is not, and could not be, balanced or impartial.

The writer has bought all the Ramones' records, seen them live every time they came to Italy (and will not forget either the legs apart and the head down on the instrument, carried low, of the guitarist and bassist, nor the figure of Joey hunched over the microphone), and considers April 15 – the date on which Joey Ramone lost his long battle with cancer – as one of the saddest days not only of 2001, but of the entire history of rock music. So don't expect wise words from me as a critic: the Ramones are a group to love or hate, and I who love them advise you to love them. Because they made us rediscover the joy of the surf music of the Beach Boys, because they made us re-evaluate the simplicity of the bubblegum music of the 1910 Fruitgum Company (those of “Simon says”), because they made us re-appreciate the basicity of the Beatles of the Hamburg years (not by chance in their debut album there is a cover of “Let's dance” by Chris Montez, a piece that the Beatles had in their live repertoire), because they cleaned the scene from the visual and costume excesses of glam, because they re-proposed and reaffirmed the most effective formula of the rock band (bass guitar drums vocals).

And “Ramones”, if it is not the best of the quartet's albums, is certainly the one that best exemplifies their style: I would say it is a “quintessential” album, but I fear that Joey (and Silvio) would sneer at the word.

Texts that reflect culture – subculture? – American youth (television, surfing, comics, cartoons, B-series horror films – see “Chain saw”, which evidently refers to “The Texas chain saw massacre”, Tobe Hooper's 1974 cult movie), with subjects ranging from romantic love (“I wanna be your boyfriend”, “Listen to my heart”) to narcotic vices (“Now I wanna sniff some glue”) passing through hostility towards the children of the rich (“Beat on the brat”; the lyrics are as follows: “Hit the brat, hit the brat, hit the brat with a baseball bat, yeah. What else can you do, with a brat like that always on your tail?”) and the observation of the streets of New York (“53rd & 3rd”, area of ​​youth prostitution, but also “Blitzkrieg bop”: “They pile up in the back seat, raise clouds of damp steam. I don't know what they want, but they're ready to move”).

I have already told you about the music: fast, even more so, based on three chords, very catchy in the melodies built on a quaternary basis, apparently simple to the point of simplism: guitar and drums in one channel of the stereo, voice and bass in the other (produced by Craig Leon, the album was recorded in 17 days with a total cost of 6,400 dollars at Plaza Sound Studios: as Johnny Ramone recalls, “in two days we laid down all the backing tracks, we did the voices without overdubs”). Raw stuff, in short: but authentic, engaging, “fun” stuff. How rock should always be. Here it is: “Ramones” is a great rock album. If you don't have it, buy it. Hey! I have! Let's go!